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Life in our hands: A Christian Perspective on Genetics and Cloning [Paperback]

John Bryant and John Searle

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Product Description


(Written to) encourage Christians to become involved in the
ethical debate surrounding current genetic issues ...
-- David McKelvey; Covenanter Witness; December 2004

From the Publisher

Explores the ethics of genetic and biological modification of
plants, animals and humans

From the Back Cover

Science fact sometimes looks more like science fiction. GM
technology is already embedded in drug manufacture and in agriculture. Soon
we may be able to alter the genetic make-up of our unborn children: the
technology is now available for human gene therapy and even cloning.
Furthermore, spare body-parts may one day be grown from human embryonic

With these unprecedented choices comes a minefield of complex ethical
questions. What are appropriate uses for genetic modification? What is the
status of the human embryo? How can we maintain proper regard for the
creation? Are we `playing God' or simply using our God-given talents? In
this bewildering maze there is no consensus about right and wrong. Ethical
debates are dominated by pragmatism and concern for individual rights.

Biological scientist John Bryant and doctor/pastor John Searle believe it
is essential that we apply the teachings of Jesus to the dilemmas that
arise from modern biological science. Approaching the Bible and the field
of biotechnology with equal rigour they explore how Christians can make
balanced ethical decisions in the current cultural and social climate.

About the Author

John Bryant is President-elect of the Society for Experimental
Biology and Chair of Christians in Science, and is well known as a public
speaker on genetics, genetic modification and cloning.

John Searle is a doctor and an ordained minister in the Church of England.
He has written widely on ethics and lectures in different disciplines. He
currently has a peripatetic Christian teaching ministry in Devon.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then
peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit,
impartial and sincere.

(Jas. 3:17)
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal . .
(Thomas Jefferson: US Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776)
The development in the early 1970s of genetic modification techniques led
to an expanding range of uses in altering the genetic make-up first of
micro-organisms and then of animals and plants.
The extension of genetic modification (GM) techniques to `higher' organisms
was predicted in the mid-1970s by John Bryant (1976) and by many other
authors. What many of us failed to appreciate at that time, however, was
the effect that GM techniques would have on research. This is not the place
to describe in detail the technical reasons for this; suffice it to say
that the extent of knowledge and understanding of gene structure, function
and organization in the early twenty-first century was unimaginable only
thirty years ago. Investigations that had previously been carried out with
great difficulty, or regarded as impossible, are now routine.
One clear example of this is our ability to `sequence' a whole genome (an
organism's complete complement of DNA). The amount of DNA in the genomes of
higher organisms is amazing. Indeed, to Christians working in this area the
structure and functioning of genomes are further reminders of the awesome
skill of the Creator, as inspiring as the heavens were to the psalmist (cf.
Ps. 19:1-4). Each set of human chromosomes contains 3,000 million
individual DNA building-blocks, arranged as twenty-three chromosomes. Many
plants have even bigger genomes. No wonder then that, prior to the
application of GM techniques to research on genes, the very idea of
determining the order of the bases in all the chromosomes of an organism
was no more than a pipe dream. Thus in 1976 John Bryant wrote (p. 8)

Because of the large amount of DNA in a plant cell nucleus it is
impossible to determine the precise base sequence of the DNA. Even if the
base sequence could be analysed at the improbable rate of one base per
second, it would take ... years ... to complete the analysis.
How wrong one can be! Isolating and sequencing individual genes now form a
routine research procedure. Analysis of whole genomes is rather more
complex, requiring the coordination of work in several laboratories; it is
nevertheless now part of the continuing research effort of the biological
and biomedical science `communities'.
The genome projects
This ability to determine the order of the building-blocks - the base
sequence - of large amounts of DNA led, as just described, to a hugely
increased level of activity in sequencing genes (and regulatory DNA regions
such as gene promoters: see Chapter 5). The particular genes and other DNA
regions to be sequenced, and the types of living organisms from which the
DNA was obtained, were chosen to suit the research programmes of each
laboratory. This resulted in a piecemeal approach to the analysis of
individual genomes; thus the concept grew in the late 1980s and early 1990s
of setting up international, coordinated genome-oriented research
programmes. Sequencing programmes and problem-oriented programmes thus ran
side by side. The best-known of these is the Human Genome Project (HGP),
which we discuss in more detail later, but there are several others.
Research programmes varied from those producing general information to
others concerned with disease-causing organisms such as the malaria
parasite, or with economically important crops like rice. In addition to
these major tasks, some researchers undertake to analyse and map the many
types of non-coding DNA that occur in nearly all organisms.
Progress has been unexpectedly rapid, not only in relation to the HGP but
also in other organisms. New genome sequences are being published
regularly. For instance, in the nine weeks between early October and early
December 2002, two more complete genome sequences were published: those of
the mouse (reviewed by Bradley, 2002, and Boguski, 2002) and the malaria
parasite (reviewed by Doolittle, 2002, and Wirth, 2002). Earlier in the
year, a `first draft' of the rice genome had been published (see
commentaries by Bevan, 2002, and Butler, 2002). Writing as a biological and
a medical scientist respectively, we regard this as impressive - the `wow
factor' of Chapter 2 - and thank God for the gifts and abilities that he
has bestowed, Impressive as this is, however, a genome sequence is just the
end of the beginning: it provides a much stronger platform for research on
gene function and gene malfunction (see Collins, 1999b).
Although we, in common with many others, in general approve of genome
research, that approval is by no means universal. ...

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